Friday, July 29, 2011

Turkish(ly) Delight(ful times)

“Let’s pause from this period of intellectual enjoyment and take a moment to ponder the meaning of friendship.”

Such sentences are not uncommon from my very dear, intellectually stimulating cousin Amanda. We’re both sitting at the kitchen bar atop two tall wooden bar stools, the legs characterized by the loving mark of Vincent’s claws. The sky outside the glass kitchen doors leading to the porch is black, dotted with the light of scattered stars.

Amanda and I are huddled over a handful of literature books, drooling over Hopkins, T. S. Elliot and W. B. Yeats. Amanda points out Hopkins’ use of nature and Christ, and the sense of excitement he conveys. I point out Yeats’ ability to transport his reader into a completely different world, time and dimension with the power of words. I like Hopkins' use of nature as well, as Amanda has me read a poem of his for the first time, and Amanda reads some Yeats and says she likes him, but he's not her favorite.

We’re in heaven. The calm night sky pours in through the windows, most of the family is filtering into bed, and Amanda and I have the run of the kitchen to discuss literature to our hearts’ content as we wait for our Turkish Delight to settle (yes, we made Turkish Delight).

The sentence that began this post, about the meaning of friendship, pleasantly interrupted our English powwow when Esther, Hannah, Tabby and Julie came upstairs to show off their new fingernail art.

“Let’s pause from this period of intellectual enjoyment and take moment to ponder the meaning of friendship," Amanda says to the girls as they fill the kitchen with the aroma of freshly-popped popcorn.

The girls, caught a bit off guard, but seemingly interested, paused for a moment. Once they'd pondered the question, a list started pouring out of the qualities of a good friend. They jumped right in. Esther told us about her friend from church that no one else gives the time of day to. It's not a pity thing, she said, but a desire not to leave her behind because she cares about her.

Why are you friends with your friends, we asked. The discussion continued, as we got a glimpse into the world of these girls' ideals and principals, probably without them knowing it. They may only be 9, 13, 15 and 16, but they know what's going on. And they know they're still learning, too. So do Amanda and I.

We asked if friendships should be rooted in obligation. We all know each other because we're cousins. But we're friends because every year we're discovering more dimensions of awesomeness. Amanda's love of literature, ballet, the simple joy of a well-constructed sentence, love of laughter and storytelling skills with seamless comedic timing. Katie's and Anna's adventurous spirits in lands of the great unknown, Katie's fashion sense, Anna's great taste in television, Emily's cool, calm and collected smarts, caring spirit and ambition, yet slap-happy ridiculousness. Josiah's easy-going nature, ever-present smile and good-natured sense of humor. His and Peter's appreciation for the Onion News Network and tennis. Peter's level-headedness, intelligence and deadpan humor. Julie's disdain for mushrooms and mad violin skills. The list goes on and on.

Needless to say, combining these personalities makes for some pretty legit shenanigans, from our intellectual discussions concerning the intent of authors and their literature and the true meaning of friendship to dappling in the world of user comments, how the Turkish Delight looked like a festering caterpillar and a nail-biting account of Amanda’s car troubles. And of course, Peter’s caution that google-ing a recipe is sketchy unless you scroll down to at least the third one.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Love is Spelled T-I-M-E

"Well, look at this!" Grandpa exclaims, scanning the front page of a copy of the Sioux Valley News, seated comfortably at the kitchen table. "Your name is splashed all over the front page! You're a VIP!" He continued gushing, shaking my hand, and eventually asking for my autograph.

I'll admit, I was pretty excited the first time I saw my name in print on that newspaper: "Laura Heckmann, Sioux Valley News Reporter." But that eventually lost its novelty, in line with a calling card for complaints on every story I write. Grandpa somehow managed to turn it into something magical again.

And it wasn't even about the paper, or whether or not I really was an accomplished writer, or that my name was all over the front page. It was that he cared because my name was on it. I have no idea if my family cares about the inner workings of newspapers, or what types of tasks fill a reporters day (probably not), or anything that paper has to say, but suddenly because I, their niece/cousin/granddaughter, was a part of it, it mattered.

Earlier this morning, I was joined around 11 a.m. by the ENTIRE crew at the newspaper office. As in, almost the entire side of my Dad's extended family. Grandma and Grandma, two sets of aunts and uncles, a handful and a half of cousins, my dad and two of my siblings.

From the second they stepped in they were wide-eyed and full of questions. Visiting my office had been put on their schedule as a major field trip for the morning. They wanted to take my picture by the cash register, in front of newspaper stacks, sitting at my desk and working the stapler. They wanted to know how the newspaper runs, how we put it together, what kinds of customers we have. They wanted to see the storage area, know what the stacks of paper were used for and marveled at the large paper cutter.

Amanda and Peter (two of my cousins) sat in on half a Commission meeting with me. The entire family has sat for hours, both nights of the reunion so far, just listening to stories from everyone else, wanting to know the intricate details of our lives and marveling at our accomplishments.

It's overwhelming in the best possible way, to know you're cared about.

I suppose it's pretty easy not to take interest in something that doesn't interest me. I can forget that relationships aren't about keeping me entertained. If someone is talking about planting corn seeds, the art of square dancing or how they once played an extra in a small budget movie, if I care about them, I'll care about what they do. I'll care about what makes them happy, or what fills their day. And I may just learn some fascinating things in the process, about the subject, but more importantly, about the person.

This family cares, and by the time they'd left my office, probably close to 45 minutes later, I couldn't help but beam and feel like I'd just gotten a gargantuan hug that hadn't unwrapped me yet. They made me feel special and in a way I rarely have, and I only hope I'll carry that genuine, wide-eyed curiosity for my loved ones beyond today. Thanks fam, for not only reminding me how blessed I am by all of you, but what can learn from you, as well.

Who knows, this may even give me a new perspective on Commission meetings.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Terry the Postman

Terry works at the post office. The post office is just down the sidewalk from the the newspaper office. I go there every morning to pick up the mail for work. I know I’ll run into Terry if I go around the lunch hour, because Beth, the postal worker I usually encounter, is on her lunch break (or so I assume). Terry is never at the counter, and I always have to wait at least a minute or two before he makes an appearance (if he’s the only one there when I happen to stop in), but it’s usually worth the wait.

Terry is on the short side, small frame, bald, no-nonsense, but not afraid to tease. His eyes are kind yet stern. Our conversations have ranged from the rubber spiders that have been hanging on their back wall since Halloween to Indian lore. And sometimes, he can be just plain ornery. Not blatantly. He’s never been rude to me. But I can tell when he’s not in a good mood. He’s especially quiet, short and mechanically polite.

That was what I encountered Friday morning. I had to stop by the post office on my way back from an interview to pick up the office mail.

Sure enough, around 11 a.m., Beth’s side of the counter had a sign pointing to the other side. I walk to the other side, shuffling around and making as much noise as I can, hoping Terry will hasten at the commotion.

I jingle my keys and set them noisily down on the counter, gazing around the small entry area. The rubber spiders still hang from the wall. One large one and one baby one. I’ve told Terry many times that they really should replace them with butterflies, at least until next Halloween. But he insists the kids like them.

A few minutes into my wait, Terry emerges from the back. He smiles diplomatically and I tell him I have a 50 cent postage charge I need to take care of. He doesn’t make his usual chatter, or ask any questions, he just takes the yellow card from me and tells me there’s another 50 cent charge. I tell him I don’t have any other change on me, so he says ok, we’ll just leave it for next time.

He cashes me out, gives me a receipt and my parcel, and sends me on my way.

It was odd, I thought. Not like his usual self. Granted, he’s never been Happy the Dwarf, but he just seemed off about something.

And for some reason that bothered me. I wanted to ask him if his day was going alright, but thought better of it, said goodbye, and he politely told me to have a good day. I told him “you, too,” and jingled out the lobby door.

I feel like if something was bothering him, or even if it wasn’t, regardless of if he wanted to explain, the fact that someone cared enough not only to notice, but to ask, would've made him feel a little better. But I’ll never know, now. Until my next opportunity, I suppose.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Google+! Woo!

Ok, this Google+ thing. I have to blog about it. I have it. I gave in. And I was curious. I’m a sucker for peer pressure when it comes to social networking. Even Twitter (though admittedly, I never use it). The great question before us now (or me, at least) is whether Google+ will become the new Facebook, or falter into MySpace status. Will it stick?

Honestly, I have a hard time imagining anything taking over Facebook, but I suppose something had to threaten it. Whether or not Google+ will make a dent, spread like wildfire, or die remains to be seen. In fact, it’s so new right now that it’s in a sort of “trial phase,” allowing curious blighters such myself in only by invitation.

It all started about two weeks ago, when rumblings of this foreign concept that was “Google+” started popping up on scattered Facebook statuses. And then the mysterious “+1” started appearing next to my Google searches.

My realization that this was an invite-only novelty just happened to coincide with a friend offering invites to anyone who so desired one. I desired. And I got. What the heck, I thought, let’s give it a shot. Besides, everyone else is doing it.

So, I launched into the uncharted waters of Google+. When the invite arrived in my Google e-mail, it sent shivers down my spine. It was new. It was exciting. It was in a trial period! It was like being a part of history!

At first glance, it appeared very similar to Facebook, only aesthetically boring by comparison. It kind of looked like the Google screen, I suppose, only with a profile picture and their own version of minifeed.

I quickly realized, however, that the claim to fame of Google+ was its friend “circles;” the ability to place different friends in different circles and share whatever you want with whomever you want, and perhaps more importantly, keep what you want from whomever you want. You no longer have to worry about Grandma and Mom seeing those party photos. And your friends don’t know who you put in what circles. So, if that friend who thinks you’re bosom buddies ends up in the “Acquaintances” circle, he'll never know.

Also, that mysterious “+1” next to Google search items is essentially, I learned, Google's equivalent of a “like” on Facebook.

I’m very new to this, obviously, so I may yet (and probably will) stumble across other novelties of the network as time goes on, but the real question will be if it stamps out Facebook. Because there really is no reason to have two social networking sites that do essentially the same thing, just in slightly different ways.

Until all is revealed, I remain a humble and ignorant explorer, learning with the rest of you noobs. It's like a great equalizer; no one knows what they're doing! I'll relish this ignorance as long as I can.

And before I close, I must throw in my philosophical slant on this new age of networking. I noticed as I was starting up my account that I used Facebook to go down my list of friends to try and think of people to look for on Google+. And in doing so, I realized I was skipping over a notably large number of them.

Google+ is like starting over. It’s a new identity in the realm of social networking. Cheesy, I know, but kind of true! I picked out the people I actually knew I would care about hearing from. I was able to reevaluate all the info I probably hadn’t changed on Facebook since I started it, my first summer before college, about six years ago! Man, have things changed.

What a nostalgia trip. And I’ll leave the rest in my head. But if anyone else has embarked on this journey, please, give me your thoughts! Obviously it’s still new and still catching on, and still has a lot coming, but the feedback at this stage is fascinating.

The way I see it, this is like any other uncertain relationship that people are either bold enough or stupid enough to jump into. You hope the initial trials and tribulations will eventually reward your trust with a worthwhile investment. It will also draw the line between bold and stupid.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Majestic Perspective

Nothing floors me flat on the ground and nothing puts me in my place like coming home on a clear night. Hi, God.

Last night, the day had been a long. Work in the morning, straight to VBS in the evening, topped off by a late night at the ballpark.

I’d been taking in the church softball games with a few friends, most of the spectators having worn thin by the last out, around 11 p.m. Those friends scattered to meet up with others and I gathered my things and headed for the parking lot.

Walking by myself, and slowly, I had a feeling of aimlessness. I’m not really sure why, but I just walked to my car feeling like I was dragging something. I looked up at the sky just before I got into the car, met with a big blur of dark blue, dotted by a few visible stars peeking off in the distance.

The drive home was dark and quiet, the radio humming softly for background noise, that heavy feeling still lingering.

After 20 minutes alone with nothing but my mysterious uncertainty, the turnoff for our dirt road came up on the left. I maneuvered my little Ford Taurus down the choppy dirt.

There’s something about the dirt road that sets the stage for the majesty of a clear, starry night out at our house. Rustic and natural. I don’t know if that makes sense, but it somehow all ties together to make something wonderful.

I pulled around the corner where the dirt road splits, heading up the hill to our house. I always chuckle to myself as I pass the “DEAD END” sign marking the fork, knowing what lies beyond it is anything but dead.

The dirt road turned into cement as I made the turn for the long haul up the driveway, pulling in right behind my brother’s black Jeep. I let the song I’d been listening to play out before I turned off the ignition and plunged the yard back into darkness.

I waited a little, sighed heavily. I let my eyes adjust to the blackness, gathered my things, opened the car door and stepped outside.

My first thought whenever I get home after dark is to look up. Today, I was momentarily distracted: the front lawn and surrounding fields were literally sparkling.

There is nothing like it in the world and no way to describe it. Fireflies everywhere. The thought of fireflies dancing doesn’t sound so childish when you look into an open field on a summer night. Because that’s exactly what they’re doing.

After I caught my breath (even though I’ve seen it a million times), I remembered to look up. WHAM. I almost couldn’t take it all in at once. One of the clearest nights I’ve seen out there.
Looking up at that sky, you feel like you can see forever. You feel like you can see into eternity, like it’s God’s window into heaven, the closest glimpse we’ll get (for now).

My dramatization may allude to the fact that the sky is my faith perspective. When I see the sky on a clear night, constellations and the milky way woven through the endless black, or a sunset, or a cloud pattern stretching beyond sight, it hits me every time: God’s an artist. And a darn powerful one, too. And that just snowballs into a whole new can of faith worms. The sky can smack things back into perspective for me faster than (almost) anything. It's beyond comprehension.

Whatever I’d been moping about on the drive back, I’d completely forgotten about. I look at the lawn and I look up at the sky, and the majesty and presence of Christ is too overwhelming to think of anything else.

Now, nights like these, during the summer, aren’t all that rare out by our house. But I can confidently say they will never become routine.